Tao of the Farm – Principle number 18 – “The Corona Virus will come and turn everything on its head.”

13 April 2020

If there is one thing of which we can be certain, then it is that there is great uncertainty ahead. As I write this we are in lockdown. We have been required to “stay at home” since the 26th of March. I have left the house only twice in the last 18 days. When I have left, I have kept the outing short. I wear my trusted “buff” as a facemask and spray sanitiser on my hands when I enter and when I leave a shop.
A lot has happened at Pebblespring farm since the previous chapter. I came to live full time in “Kok’s Cottage” in April 2017. My marriage of 23 years came to an end with a very messy divorce that dragged out for over two years. My daughter Mandisa came to stay with me at the farm, two weeks on and two weeks off. I am in a new relationship with the beautiful, profound and perplexing Poppina. Together we have, under very difficult circumstances, made Pebblespring Farm a home. We have been joined by two lovely Great Danes: Tank and Nakia and two (mostly irritating) cats: Hamilton and Eliza. (Yes they were both named by Mandisa, a musicals nut!)

 

corona virus move - april 2020
I managed to move the last of my stuff with only a few hours to spare before the 23:59 commencement of lock down on 26 March 2020

But today, as I write this, we are not at Pebblespring Farm. We are living through the lockdown at my office premises in the leafy suburb of Walmer. I am very fortunate to have a little flatlet on the site that has actually proved to be very comfortable. My thinking is that by making this rushed move, I am most likely to keep my office going through the lockdown. Being an Architect (as opposed perhaps to a waiter or a pilot) is useful I suppose in this time, because I can continue to prepare designs and documentation without having to come into physical contact with anyone. There are only seven of us in our team, so it really is a very small operation and a lot easier to keep going than the massive architectural offices in Cape Town and Johannesburg with maybe 200 or 300 employees or those of US, UK, China and Japan that employ thousands. By being here at the office, I can much more comfortably hold on to the reins at what has become “mission control”. Each of our team members is linked to the office server via VPN and each one, except of course Tafadzwa the general assistant, has moved their workstations with them to what has now become their home offices. I am very happy to say that the last 18 days have been a great success. The output in terms of quantity and quality has been good. We meet every morning at 9am with Zoom and review our progress and plan the work ahead. During the day we share our progress on the office Whatsapp group that we set up some time ago. I would perhaps post a diagram of what I have been designing on the drawing board, my colleague Chris or Siya may post for my comment of for Graham’s comment the latest version of a drawing that has been prepared on Revit (the very powerful design software we use). In this way we continue – “business as usual” I suppose. Except of course it is not business as usual. I have been in business for my own account now for 25 years. What I have seen in this time is that when there is trouble in the economy the first thing to be put on hold is any future construction project developers may have had in mind. A construction project can almost always be delayed so that they can “wait and see”. We can always live a little longer on the same old house. We can always wait a little longer before we build the next hotel in our group We can always squeeze in a little tighter into the existing office space until the crisis passes. So, right now, I am facing a great uncertainty. While I am reasonably certain that I will not die from the Corona virus, I do not have any certainty at all that my business and my means of supporting my loved ones will still be here in a year’s time.
That’s really what I want speak about today. I want to speak about uncertainty and how it is that we can come to make peace with it or even embrace it. I find it difficult because as I write these words, I am still trying to figure out for myself my own way forward. What I do know is that there is only one way to begin to make friends with uncertainty and that is to accept that it exists. Perhaps like the great Buddha tried to teach us: that it can only hurt us if we do not accept it. It seems to me though that in this time, what government and leaders are trying their best to do is to give certainty to the people. To give a guess as to when the “curve” will “peak”. People everywhere want the certainty to know if they will be getting their salaries or if they will be able to return to work or when they will be able to buy booze and cigarettes again. The horrible truth is that no-one can be certain of any of these things. What we are reasonably certain of is that about 115000 people have died of this disease so far. What we are told is that 25 of these are South African deaths. What we can be even more certain of is that we are in lockdown and will be until the end of April and that alone will devastate the economy in ways, in all likelihood, not seen in my lifetime.
Perhaps though what this crisis has brought more clearly into focus than ever before is that the certainty we thought we had was an illusion all along. There has never been certainty. There have only been those that have tried to calm the herd creating for them the illusion that there was certainty. It is very sad, but unfortunately true, that of all the people that I have ever me in my life, I am able to categorize either has having a “herd mentality” or a “herder mentality”. Others, like Fredrick Nietzsche have been perhaps only slightly more blunt when saying we either have the minds of “masters” or of “slaves”. I would guess, like everything else, the truth, as inconvenient as is, is probably a little more nuanced. In the same way maybe that each of us at times display more of our feminine spiritual energy and other times more of our masculine spiritual energy, we lean in some days toward “slave thinking” and in other days toward “master thinking”. Now though, is the time for us to discipline our minds and to discipline our thinking to the thinking of the “master”. To train ourselves to think noble thoughts. The noble soul does not seek certainty because it knows that certainty is an illusion. It knows that just because events have been seemingly predictable looking back, that does not in anyway help to predict the future. No, the noble soul knows that it must embrace the uncertainty, not only today in this crisis, but at all times. It must accept that we are present in a living universe and must be ready to make changes in its life in order to respond to this reality.

 

I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know when I will come again to live at Pebblespring Farm. I don’t know if I will come to build my dream house with a deck that looks over the spring. I don’t know if I will come to graze my heard of Nguni Cattle through a beautiful pasture and shaded food forest. I don’t know if I will be able to make the decisions in this time that will see Pebblespring Farm grow in biodiversity and being passed down through the generations of caring and deep-thinking custodians that will follow behind me. I don’t know, because I am not certain. But because of the noble soul inside that is battling and fighting off the slave-minded demons, I will learn to embrace this uncertainty and with practice and discipline come to love it. Yes, to love my fate including all that is uncertain about it.

How to pump from a marshy boggy spring.

While the water we use in the cottage for household purposes is all rainwater collected of the 160 sq m cottage roof, water for irrigation must come from the sources of standing water we are very fortunate to have here at Pebblespring farm. Not only irrigation actually. One of the big hurdles that we face in expanding our Tilapia tank systems and bringing cattle back to the farm is a reliable source of water for them. So as you can see, my continuous trials (an errors) of how to reliably (and affordably) harvest water are of critical importance to the continued sustainability of our many projects.

Really cool video

Unboxing the Davey (DC10M-2) Sump Pump

I have no “Town Water” at Pebblespring Farm – I rely entirely on natural sources, either collected off my roof, or from the spring. Submersible pumps are therefore quite important to me for three reasons:

1 – to draw water out of the spring into the aquaponics system.
2 – to circulate water in my aquaponics system
3 – to irrigate (fertilized water) from the aquaponics system to my garden and orchard.

The Davey Sump pump (DC10M-2) and the Resun King 3 are roughly the same price in South Africa (Around ZAR 1000 or USD68 ) – my feeling though is that the Davey Sump pump gives much more pump for your money!!

Watch the cool video that Tim made for you!

Night Patrol 27 October 2018

I hate it when my night Patrol duty falls on a Saturday night. That means I must leave Poppina in the cottage alone with Tank. And another thing – this was the third Saturday Patrol I’ve had been allocated this year. It doesn’t sound fair. In fact I had almost forgotten about the patrol and just remembered 30 minutes before I was due to report at 19:00.

 

The way it works here, it that the patrol vehicle is parked at the Service Station just up the road from me at Cow’s Corner. So I drove up, bought some snacks for the road and signed for the keys with the lady in the shop. My co-driver didn’t pitch. I contacted him, but his was pissed off because he didn’t receive the email roster that sets out the dates for all the night patrollers. I am perhaps more forgiving. I admire the volunteer energy that the people heading up “Farmcomm” put in, including the people that assemble and send out the night patrol roster.

 

Normally, not much happens on my night patrol shift, but last night was different. About an hour in to the three hour shift there was a call in the two way radio. Neil and his wife, from just over the road from us had been attacked. 4 men in balaclavas beat the two pensioners and took a shot gun, a 9 mm hand gun and cell phones. Very quickly the radio control guys stepped into place and coordinated the activities of the many “responders” who arrived at very short notice in their private vehicles. You see, each Farmcomm member has a two way radio. Many keep it on their person at all times. So if there is an emergency the response can be quite rapid. Some responders were directed to form cordons along certain roads, others were directed to launch the drone which is now fitted with a Fleur night vision camera of sorts. I was tasked to park at the corner of Kragga Kamma and Louisa roads, to direct police and other emergency personnel who were beginning to arrive on the scene. While this was going on the attackers were being pursued. The place where they cut the fence into Flanagan’s farm was found and as the police dog unit arrived they tried to find a spoor. The pursuit of these attackers went on until early hours of the morning. We come very close to apprehending the suspects as they took refuge in thick bush between Doorly and Destades road.

For much of the time from when the attack happened at 8ish until we received the order to stand down at 2:30, I was part of a vehicle cordon. Basically a row of cars parked along a road with lights shining so as to back it impossible for the attackers to pass. So I had a bit of time to think. At first my mind moved to how sad it is that we have this crime situation that requires all of us in this neighbourhood to lock ourselves in hour houses as soon as the sun goes down and to live behind high fences protected by viscous dogs, alarm systems and armed response companies. No it’s not nice. But I think what is good is that the community has organised itself and is taking responsibly for its own security. (Collaborating with the police of course.)

My mind also wandered to how futile it is to feel sad about this situation (or any other I suppose). The situation “just is” and I am faced with the option to deal with it or to move somewhere else where I may not have to deal with it. I have chosen to be here at Pebblespring farm. For better or worse, this is the decision I have taken. And with that mind-set, my only choice is to find joy in making every effort I can to protect my family and prepare myself as best I can to be able to deter and resist intruders. It feels better to have this mindset. It in fact feels better actively pursuing attackers at 2 in the morning. Just knowing that I am doing something perhaps. Not waiting for them to take the initiative and spoil my day.

I have a lot of work to do to be fully prepared. But that’s what I have decided to do.

 

By the way we never caught the guys, but we learned a lot and we are getting better with each of these “operations”

 

How do build a simple “clip on” guttering system in your lunch hour for less than $10

I love design, I love simplicity. I love the idea that we can rethink cheap readily available materials and use them in a way that was not imagined by the manufacturer. So in the video below I show how I use 75 mm diameter PVC down pipe as a guttering system. Building a rain water harvesting system normally takes a complicated range of fittings brackets screws and masonry anchors.But very often the same objective can be achieved using only 75 mm diameter PVC down pipe and elbow fittings.Watch this short video to see how we use this idea at Pebblespring Farm.

 

Click here to watch this excellent little video

 

 

pvc pipe

 

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Law of the farm number 17: “Don’t sell the farm to buy a tractor”

One of my favourite “tools” on the farm is our little 160cc Suzuki quad bike. My friend Eldred had it lying around in his garage and gave it to us as a gift when we first bought the farm. What I like about it is that it’s small and light, but powerful enough to take a load of fence poles or drag a log out of the dam.

Having a big fancy John Deer tractor would be great, but very expensive, so right now we make do with what we have. The heavier puling tasks the quad bike can’t handle, I use my 4X4 for. The big digging and pushing tasks I hire in a TLB at R300.00 per hour. No, it’s not ideal, but I am working within the realistic limitations of what we have and how best we should invest what we have. And what’s more, the quad bike is agile, it has a tight turning circle, it can manoeuvre through narrow paths in the forest. Places where a tractor just could not get right now. The quad bike is also light on the ground, it will not easily compact the soil or sink into muddy patches. Oh yes, and of course, it doubles as a toy. I feel quite comfortable to let even smallish children take turns up and down the driveway on the quad bike. I would not be able to let them do this with a tractor.

My policy favouring a quad bike (for now) over a tractor I suppose comes out of a long tradition where my grandfathers’ grandfather would have had to make such conscious choices all the time. My grandfather’s grandfather would have lived on a farm; he would have known that if he invested too heavily in extravagances he would struggle to feed his family. If that meant walking to town because he could not yet quite afford a horse cart, then I guess that is what he would have done. If that meant housing is family in a one roomed cottage, that is what he would have had to do. That’s just the way things were, and actually that’s still the way things are.
Except…
Our modern urban lives have helped to blur the lines between what is possible and what is impossible. Banks and other credit giving business have created the illusion that we can have anything we want right now. All we have to do is sell our future lives to them. All we have to do is to agree to labour for them. So we buy the horse cart, or the three roomed cottage or the tractor, but we sell the very thing we were trying to attain by entering into the bargain. Let me be clear. In some way or other, we are always trying to be free. When we buy something or build something it is in order that we may be free. Free from discomfort, free from toil and struggle, free from inconvenience. We are always trying to buy our freedom. The banks and credit giving institutions know this, but also know that we have become conditioned to selling our very freedom, our future time and energy for the privilege of having right now what we actually can’t afford to have right now.
The debt trap has become so common and so widespread that it has become generally accepted that this is the route any young person should follow when leaving home and embarking on their journey to independence. Young people who do not go into debt to buy cars, clothing and big screen televisions risk becoming social outcasts. There are the brave ones that do resit the trend, but these are a very small, very courageous minority of thought leaders.
I must be careful to clarify that I am not speaking out against debt as a concept; I am speaking here about moving toward some acceptance that debt is a very powerful and at the same time a very dangerous tool. Clever people have learned how use debt to invest well and build empires that serve them and their families for generations. But debt is dangerous. Like dynamite. Not something to hand out an street corners to children , but something to entrust to experienced miners who after years of training, know how to apply its force surgically and precisely to extract the ore from the rock. Right now, we are suffering a pandemic of indebted , young and old, running around dazed through the city streets with sticks of dynamite blowing off hands and limbs.

 

I am not saying that buying a tractor is a bad idea; I am not saying that debt is a bad idea; I am saying that we must be become skilled before making decisions so that we are not tricked into selling the farm to buy the tractor.

Law of the Farm number 16: ”When it’s hot, work in the shade”

February 2015

I did not get as much work done over the weekend as I would have liked. I did make good progress with a small hen house that has become an urgent need. The chickens are now roaming free in the paddock near the cottage. They are behaving very well and have not been eaten yet. Perhaps they are trying to reassure me that they don’t need to be locked up at all. My intention though is just to make sure they are locked up at night, primarily to protect them from predators and secondarily to make it possible for me to find the eggs that would otherwise be laid all over the show. But just watching these beautiful chickens roaming around through the grass and shrub over the weekend had convinced me that that is how they should be allowed to go about their lives.
Gary – using his head on a hot day!

I enjoy the physical task of putting together a chicken coop from scrap wood, or clearing the forest with the chainsaw or building fences or clearing the dam of reeds. Solitary work for me is very satisfying. It’s a kind of meditation. I allow myself to be completely in the present moment. Yes, I have a plan of what I would like to do, but I allow most of my mind to focus only on what I am doing right now, and then the very next step. In this way my work sometimes becomes “meandering. As the next step may be to cut a board, I would power up the generator, only to find that I need to fill up with fuel. I would fill up with fuel only to find that the extension lead that I need to run from the generator to the cross cut saw is hopelessly tangled and I would spend time untangling it. I would cut the board then realise then match it to another, realising that in fact the structure will need to be a bit narrower than I thought; to match an ideal board that I have that would work well as a hen house floor. And so on. I let each step guide me to the next and I make peace with each step and am fully involved and present to each step.

I was able to do most of the cutting work indoors, bet the assembly work had to be done outside or I would not be able to get the structure outside once it was fully built. It was damn hot on Saturday and I could feel the sun beating down on me. When I felt the heat was too much, I would step inside, sweep up the saw dust. Or make some tea. Or repack the tool box. This is the way I prefer to work. Not as a slave who is driven to work at a task regardless of where our energy is. I have come to see work as being something I must have “energy” for. I am sure that “energy” is not the right word. It’s more like I must “feel” the task, I must have an appetite for it I must “desire” the task. If I can work when I am in this task, I find that I am super creative; I am energetic and can keep going for very long periods of time. Perhaps this is why I prefer solitary work? Often the people I would be working with would drain my energy somehow. Especially if have employed cheap casual labour. Often I would find that the fact that they are in my space, make me not want to work myself. Its illogical, it’s irrational I know, but I am just telling you how it is with me.
So when it is hot, I work in the shade. Or I work wherever I feel that the “energy” is where I have an appetite to work, where I have desire. Sometimes when it is hot I will find a task in the shade that I have desire for. Sometimes I don’t find energy for anything and all I want to do it sip my tea and stroll through Facebook. I have stopped whipping myself for that. Sometimes the only thing I feel like doing is having a short nap under the oak tree. I have come to trust that my desire for the tasks that need doing will return.
The problem is that the modern urban world that we have built does not very much like law of the farm number 16. In fact the modern urban world says. “when it is hot, just keep on slogging because if you don’t we are gonna fire your ass” the modern urban world causes you and I to believe that physical and mental work is meant to be un pleasant and it is just something that we have to endure in order to by the privilege of having somewhere dry and warm to sleep at night and to send our children to school. The modern urban world tell us to distrust any “feeling” and “energy” any desire or appetite that you may have to slow down with the task you are busy with or any inclination you may have to rather do some other task for an hour or two. The modern urban world tells us that you and I are not best placed to decide how to spend our time, our energy and our lives. These decisions are best left to people who give us “jobs”. In fact we begin to believe ourselves that we cannot be trusted with our own energy, because when our jobs give us “leave” or a weekend off, all we do is crash on the couch and play Xbox. The truth is that these jobs have exhausted us physically and mentally to such an extent that we probably need some time to recover, given time, we would get off the couch, begin to feel our own energy, beginning to trust our own desire. But in most cases, just as this sense begins to return, we are summoned back to the office, for another week, another 11 months of being told what to do with every waking hour.
No, I say this is not the way. This way of living is contradiction of a fundamental law of how things are. This modern urban way of life is a direct contravention of law of the farm number 16 “When it is hot work in the shade” But no, don’t go off and resign your job today. Small steps first. Begin today, right now to “feel” what it is that you want to do with the next hour of your life. You may be so tired that all you want to do is sleep. Even if you can’t take a nap, the very step of being conscious of what you want to do with your time is a step in the right direction. Take 10 minutes quite time every morning your tea break. Switch off your office mind of deadlines, payments and reviews. Become silent in your mind. Don’t think. Just feel what you are feeling. At first name the emotions that you are feeling. Don’t judge them, just name them, acknowledge them, and preferably write down the name of what you are feeling. Then as a second step, feel what it is that you need to be doing with your time, where your energy is. Preferably write it down. It may take a long time before you are able to act on these desires, but that time will come.